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Cast and Carve, off-piste snowboarding and mountain fishing

By Dave Faustini

Photos Andrew Miller

Fishing and snowboarding are synonymous with life for many who reside in this corridor known as the Eastside.

Jimmy Goodman and I are no exception here. We are dedicated frothers when it comes to backcountry snowboarding and high alpine fishing.

“The obsession started a good ten years ago” as Jimmy Goodman said. “I grew up fishing and snowboarding but never expected these two things to bring me from one coast to the other.”
Each year when the springtime comes around, we load up our multi-day packs with all things necessary to spend a week in the high mountains in search of couloirs to carve and golden trout to cast to.
Located deep in the remote wilderness of Eastern Sierra Mountains in California lay endless opportunities to combine fishing for golden trout and backcountry snowboarding. These two sports are not often associated with each other but in reality share many similarities. Patience, a lot of effort for sometimes only one line or one fish and the reality of getting skunked. While most people have written off snowboarding for the summer come mid July is prime time for what this group of friends like to call Cast & Carve.

“Every summer I look forward to this time when the high alpine lakes start to crack open but there is still enough snow to ride and we get to combine my two favorite things in the world. Carving and Casting…”

The reason for the timing is that most of these golden trout fish live at very high & remote alpine lakes and it takes a long time for these lakes to complete thaw out. Especially after a big snow season and record breaking snowfall in February like the Eastern Sierra had in 2019.
After an alpine start reminiscent of a big winter objective we found ourselves taking our first break as we watched the orange glow of the first light creeping down the granite walls of a nearby peak. While the team’s objectives were to carve and cast, I held my own list of unspoken objectives. To bring this experience to its fullest potential I would give equal attention to the lush meadows, blooming wildflowers, meandering streams, jagged skylines, cotton candy sunsets, mid-day naps, and plentiful snacks.
Scoring good conditions was a bit of a gamble for us this year, as we were dealing with the deepest springtime snowpack seen in the past decade. Arriving too early in the season meant the lake would be covered in ice and unfishable. Too late meant the snow in the couloirs would be heinously sun-cupped and unrideable. With no guarantee that the trip would be a success, we decided to roll the dice and continue our trek into base camp at 11,500 feet.

“Every summer I look forward to this time when the high alpine lakes start to crack open but there is still enough snow to ride and we get to combine my two favorite things in the world. Carving and Casting…”

We had to start at 4:30am in the full dark to avoid the horrible mosquitoes that are rampant and the lower streams when the sun rises. Our packs are extremely heavy loaded with food, sleeping bags, snowboard gear, fishing gear and any other supplies we need for the next four days. A long and gruelling 10 mile hike drops us into a very remote and pristine lake surrounded by a massive cirque lined with chutes, couloir and ramps to snowboard. We were surprised about how much snow was still around as 90% of the lake was still frozen and all the lines above were still smooth. For the next four days we would usually wake up fish until the sun would warm up the corn snow enough to shred, go hike and ride a line, come back to camp, eat, nap and fish again around sunset. The total easy life, no service, no problems just enjoying nature and a good group of friends.
Golden Trout, the official state fish of California, are a special species in many ways. They are not native to these high alpine watersheds, yet thrive in this environment. Their winters are spent under the ice, in a cold and dark environment, patiently waiting for the spring thaw. As the surface ice melts, these fish take on a cryptic appearance as they flaunt vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and red as they prepare for their spring spawn. Warming water temps and a lack of predators give these fish confidence come out and feed.

As we arrived at camp we were surprised to see that the lake remained mostly frozen with only a few holes deemed fishable. We would have to fish shoulder to shoulder, with not more than a few feet between each angler’s flies. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work. It reminded me of snowboarding a tight couloir with a large group of friends.

We let mother nature dictate how we would spend our time on this trip. If the sun was out we would go snowboarding. If it was raining we would retreat to our bivys for naps and snacks. If it was somewhere in between we would go fishing. It was simple living and I didn’t mind that.
“Over the years I have gained experience in the valley, fishing small rivers, lakes and streams, riding the resort with a few small hikes all while the tallest peaks stood watch just above sitting and waiting. Eventually just like my snowboarding I wanted more, new experiences, new zones, less people along with the curiosity of lay out there in the high country.”

When the time was right, we made our way up the main objective, a couloir topping out near 13,000 feet. The sun was warm, the snow was soft, and the trout were waiting. Jimmy took the lead and one at a time we descended a perfect sierra hallway, fully frothing and making turns all the way to the lake below where our fly rods lay waiting for us. It was the perfect execution of a carve and cast, where one passion perfectly transitioned to the next.
That night, as the sun fell below the horizon, the colors in the sky reminded me of the trout I had the pleasure of casting to.

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